Most existing electrocardiogram (ECG) feature extraction methods rely on rule-based approaches. It is difficult to manually define all ECG features. We propose an unsupervised feature learning method using a convolutional variational autoencoder (CVAE) that can extract ECG features with unlabeled data. We used 596,000 ECG samples from 1,278 patients archived in biosignal databases from intensive care units to train the CVAE. Three external datasets were used for feature validation using two approaches. First, we explored the features without an additional training process. Clustering, latent space exploration, and anomaly detection were conducted. We confirmed that CVAE features reflected the various types of ECG rhythms. Second, we applied CVAE features to new tasks as input data and CVAE weights to weight initialization for different models for transfer learning for the classification of 12 types of arrhythmias. The f1-score for arrhythmia classification with extreme gradient boosting was 0.86 using CVAE features only. The f1-score of the model in which weights were initialized with the CVAE encoder was 5% better than that obtained with random initialization. Unsupervised feature learning with CVAE can extract the characteristics of various types of ECGs and can be an alternative to the feature extraction method for ECGs.
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